Michael Kopech front and center in first White Sox spring training reports

Outside of the inconvenient question about who actually knew about Tony La Russa’s criminal case before the White Sox hired him as a manager, the first day of spring training featured a welcome string of mostly encouraging news regarding current White Sox players, including one we haven’t seen in a while.

Rick Hahn talked to reporters for about 50 minutes before players worked out with his usual brand of genial, heavily redacted candor. La Russa showed up to his post-practice Zoom call 90 minutes late, which isn’t the greatest way to get people to stop questioning this whole arrangement.

Hahn fielded a wide range of questions about his roster, which looks likely to be his roster through the remainder of the preseason. Hahn said he has an “uptown problem” of finding it harder to recruit non-roster invitees because it’s harder to see avenues to real playing time, especially out of spring training. That looked to be the case when I compiled this year’s non-roster invitee rundown. The question is whether the White Sox were trying to get any decent downmarket veterans on non-roster invitations, instead of paying a Brad Miller $3.5 million or so.

Hahn said “the goal is to win a World Series championship” and that anything less would be a disappointment, which isn’t newsworthy, but it’s at least a more relevant to the proceedings than when he’d drop the same line about rosters that carried Adrian Nieto. The best part of the first-day-of-spring-training address is the overview of initial plans for positions, as well as individual expectations therein. The most noteworthy of the bunch was the guy you’ve already seen.

Michael Kopech: He threw in the first group, and apparently impressed Tony La Russa more than anybody among the first looks.

As for the plan out of the gate, Hahn said he wanted to sit down with Kopech before making any maps public — COVID-19 intake protocols have prevented such meetings thus far — but he likened Kopech’s situation to that of the Dodgers’ Julio Urias, who was reintroduced to the team after his injury through the bullpen before moving into the rotation, as a way of managing his workload while allowing him to contribute.

Of course, the Dodgers had the luxury of a gradual reintroduction because of their insane rotation depth. For this team in this year, the bullpen might be the most sensible place to introduce Kopech to live competition if Triple-A isn’t up and running, or the alternate training site won’t meet his needs.

Garrett Crochet: The plan is for him to start out of the bullpen in the majors as previously stated. Hahn was open to multi-inning work, but given how little he’s pitched over the last year-plus, they’ll be going by feel.

Andrew Vaughn: Hahn said the first baseman is “very much in the mix to make this club,” downplaying concerns about the lack of experience above A-ball, at least of the traditional variety. He likened the White Sox’s situation to the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s, who made a habit of integrating rookie players at key positions. It’s yet more company that flatters the White Sox prematurely, but still.

Jonathan Lucroy: It doesn’t sound like there is any pressing language in his minor-league contract that gives him an inside edge to open camp. Hahn said, “He’s here to compete. Nothing’s been promised to anybody in terms of that role, and Jonathan’s here with Seby [Zavala], Zack [Collins] and Yermín [Mercedes] to compete for that spot, and we’ll see what the next six weeks hold.”

Injuries, absences, delays

Jace Fry: After battling back issues during the season, Fry ended up undergoing a microdisectomy in January, which Hahn said was a procedure he also had in 2012. The surgery will set him back, and he probably won’t be ready before May. I had Jimmy Cordero penciled in for that last spot, but who knows — maybe it’ll be Kopech.

Aaron Bummer: He’s healthy and ready, but not yet in spring training because his daughter was born on Tuesday.

Emilio Vargas and Marco Hernández: The non-roster invitees are not yet in camp due to visa issues, with no arrival dates just yet.

Nick Madrigal: Hahn said Madrigal is in his last week of rehab, which trainers said includes controlled diving to get him psychologically ready to use his shoulder to full capacity in the field. He should be ready for Cactus League play “come early March,” on schedule to make the Opening Day roster without restrictions.

(Photo by Nick Panico)

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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knoxfire30

Kopech may be the most vital bell weather player for this franchise in determining if the rebuild will be a success or if it will be a disappointment.

You have to feel good about the lineup and bullpen over the course of the next few years even with a couple lineup holes cause so many other players are poised to put up big numbers. The rotation however is a much different story, it gets a boost this year with the acquisition of Lance Lynn but it isn’t hard to see how the back end could be problematic both in 2021 and the next few seasons. If Kopech develops into a top tier starter then all things are possible, but if he only provides mid rotation value or worse this is a team that could be on the outside looking in of any real world series contention. The sox have put a log of eggs in the lopez, cease, kopech, crochet basket that they are counting on to be high end starters and that should be pretty terrifying. They won’t sit at the big table and sign a high end starting pitcher so really they have to develop a couple out of the group they have. Maybe they could spin a trade for an ace at some point, but that also requires the development of players not currently in their top tier of prospects which is iffy at best as well.

Fingers crossed, there is no player I am watching more closely this camp/season then Kopech.

HallofFrank

I hadn’t thought about it, but I think you’re right. To borrow a phrase from Jim, I wonder if Kopech is this team’s fulcrum? Maybe not of 2021 (but maybe so), but of the entire rebuild.

The offense is so deep that it could absorb the blow if, say, Robert never put his offensive game together or Moncada never returned to 2019 Moncada. But if Kopech busts, the Sox are going to have to depend on JR’s willingness to spend to patch rotation year-to-year and that’s…less than ideal. If Kopech is good, however, the rotation is all of a sudden formidable and solidified.

knoxfire30

Right, imagine the spectrum of difference over the next few years if a cheap/cost controlled Kopech forms a 1a 1b duel with Giolito, vs if he is a mid or back end starter, vs if he is a bullpen arm or his personal struggles get to him in a way where baseball takes a back seat in his life…. A LOT rides on him.

HallofFrank

Agreed. If he does step into the top of the rotation and the Sox extend Lynn… that’s quite a 2022 rotation. In that world, I think the Sox would legitimately be at least in the conversation for the best offense in baseball, the best rotation in baseball, and the best bullpen in baseball.

And now I can’t help myself. A 2022 world series where the Sox run Giolito/Kopech/Lynn/Keuchel out against Darvish/Clevinger/Snell/Musgrove… with those lineups… mercy.

GrinnellSteve

Assuming there IS a World Series in 2022…

jhomeslice

That’s a pretty good assessment. I don’t think they are counting on Lopez, he is more of a lottery pick, and not likely to remain long on the team, my opinion. Assuming Fry comes back in May and Kopech is up reasonably soon, there isn’t a roster spot for both Rodon and Lopez. But you are right, Kopech is essential, really. Probably the key to their rebuild.

denny

It could be that Cordero is odd man out. TLR may not show him the love that Ricky R did. And with Fry out on IR, that leaves room for all.
Giolito Lynn Keuchel Cease Rodon

Kopech Lopez Crochet
Foster Heuer
Marshall Bummer Hendriks

Could even have tag-teams such using Rodon, Kopech, Lopez, Crochet 3 innings each or on doubleheader days

jhomeslice

Cordero is out almost for sure. He was awful last year. Fry is supposed to be back by early May though, and I can’t imagine both Rodon and Lopez pitch well enough to keep a decent reliever off the roster. I don’t think there is any realistic possibility that both Rodon and Lopez will be good when it is pretty unlikely that even one of them will be. If either is even decent, they should consider themselves extremely lucky. One of them should be gone by May whenever Kopech is up and Fry is back. My guess is Rodon will be on the DL by then, why would this year be any different than the last 4?

Last edited 1 year ago by jhomeslice
Eagle Bones

No, not another fulcrum!

Last edited 1 year ago by Eagle Bones
lifelongjd

He’s definitely up there in terms of importance. If him and Cease can deliver even 75% on their projected talent, then Hahn would have nailed all 3 trades to kickoff the rebuild in my opinion. Moncada and Eloy factoring in as well.

Root Cause

Great to hear some good news.

I am honestly afraid to get too excited fearing that one injury could be devastating.

I really hope that they have some $$ reserved to fill one or two holes if we are competing for the division.

jhomeslice

They are competing for the division. I’m not sure they are competing for a World Series.

Right Size Wrong Shape

If you are competing for a division you are competing for a World Series.

jhomeslice

I’m not sure spending 13M on Eaton, Rodon, and Lopez can be called a genuine best effort by ownership to compete for a World Series, but ok.

HallofFrank

Here’s your first-day-of-Spring-training, irrationally optimistic take for the day: the Sox big, “the money will be spent,” big payroll push will come after this season.

After this year, they will have allowed almost every prospect from the rebuild to matriculate. Kopech, Cease, Lopez, Collins, & Vaughn will all get legit chances to contribute and they’ll will know exactly what they have and, therefore, exactly what they need. Then they push the chips all in on 2022 & beyond. Please don’t try to find flaws in this narrative.

roke1960

I think we all misunderstood Hahn in his “money will be spent” narrative. It has been spent already. The last of it was spent on getting Jerry’s great-great-great-great grandkids into college. Mission accomplished.

Michael Kenny

Who exactly can they spend it on, though? The outfield market is basically Conforto and Starling Marte, and that’s it. Starters are Syndergaard (still rehabbing from TJ), Stroman (wants nothing to do with TLR), and a bunch of old guys.

mikeyb

Lance Lynn and Adam Eaton will be available!

asinwreck

For the right money, I’m sure Kris Bryant could be convinced to play right field.

Any free agent who could get four years isn’t coming to a team owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, so Nomar Mazara may be on tap for a reunion.

roke1960

Conforto fits everything the White Sox need for right field, which is why he has no chance of coming here.

Eagle Bones

Seriously, I can already see the next ten months:

  • Eaton is terrible / hurt in RF in 2021
  • Many fans clamor for them to sign Conforto after the season
  • They end up signing Kole Calhoun to “fix” that spot
  • “Conforto is going to cost way too much money. The offense is already good. This is fine.”
Oddvark

Yay! Now that Spring Training has started we’re allowed to practice our pessism for future offseasons. It’s my favorite day of the year! Just think about how bad Hahn and Reinsdorf will be in 2024.

hazymania

Pssh, some of us are reporting to camp in the best pessimism shape of our lives. I put on 15 lb of pessimism this offseason. Mid-season pessimism form, if we’re being honest.

Eagle Bones

I applaud those of you who continue to find reasons to take another step into the field of rakes thinking this time will be different. I just can’t see the logic, but I am kind of jealous.

HallofFrank

What did I say about finding flaws?

In all seriousness, though, here are a few avenues for spending big:

  • Trade for big contracts. The Cardinals spent a lot of money this offseason without making a splash in FA. Find a star on a payroll-cutting team and swing a deal.
  • Trade then spend money. Trade Madrigal for SP then sign one of those 5 all-star SS’s flooding the market; move TA or that SS to 2B. Trade Vaughn for RF; sign Freddie Freeman.
  • Opt-Outs. I don’t expect it, but big years from Arenado or Bauer leading to an opt-out and the top of this market looks very different. Sign Arenado and move Moncada to RF.
  • Dominate the top of the market. Sign Conforto and the best two SP available. You are right that SP includes “a bunch of old guys,” but a few of those old guys are elite pitchers still pitching like it. Some combo of Scherzer, Kershaw, and Grienke on 2 year, high-AAV deals seems feasible.

Of course, I recognize most of this is living in a fantasy land. But there will be ways to aggressively spend money next offseason if the Sox are willing.

jhomeslice

“there will be ways to aggressively spend money next offseason if the Sox are willing”. There were plenty of ways for them to aggressively spend this offseason and they chose not to. Why would they trade for a big contract when they are unwilling to sign anybody to one? If they were, they would have Darvish for 3 years instead of Lynn for 1, and they would still have Dunning too. The only small hope is that this past year was so unusual that it caused Reinsdorf to be more cheap than usual. He’s never going to not be cheap, but maybe he will be less so. It wouldn’t take them getting into the top 10 in payroll to improve this team a lot. Having a 14th/15th ranked payroll is not going to get them the players they need to win a World Series, my opinion. No team the past decade has won with a payroll lower than 12th.

This team is very close, being deprived of a player or two that they needed may be enough to keep them from being a World Series contender. It really may come down to needing Reinsdorf’s desire to win becoming greater than his desire to hoard. I don’t think I would bet a lot on that.

roke1960

I have a hard time believing they will spend next year if they wouldn’t do it this year. Sure, the pandemic is causing problems, but he’ll have another excuse to not spend next year. This was the year to solidify a solid contender for years to come and he chose to play it cheap. For being known as a good businessman, not spending for depth this winter was not a very good business decision

ParisSox

Did I miss the post on the 2022 offseason plan project ?

HallofFrank

The key word in my first post was “irrationally.” I know there’s little to no chance they aggressively spend next offseason if they didn’t in this one.

Eagle Bones

The only thing that makes me think this is remotely plausible is that the pandemic hopefully being officially in the rearview mirror by that point portends more certainty about expected revenues going forward. But I’m not ready to hope yet, the wounds are still too fresh.

jhomeslice

LOL well said. I can’t bring myself to a level of optimism that includes having hope for Eaton, Rodon, and Lopez to bear fruit this year. I’m pretty sure I know what to expect from those 3. I can’t bring myself to like this team as much as I could based on the talent they have, because I can’t get past the seeming missed opportunities of this winter and seeing those 3 additions as basically a pathetic and inept effort from the ownership at best.

Having said that, Lynn and Kopech may have a huge impact on their rotation, and make their weaknesses irrelevant compared to their strengths. I could see this team exceeding expectations if Kopech is a big contributor, which is not that far fetched. A big improvement in their rotation will mean a much more rested and effective bullpen. Rodon and Lopez won’t be negatives for the team no matter how bad they are, if they don’t need to use them much. Cease is another guy who could really help if he takes a step forward.

HallofFrank

Agreed. As I hope my post conveyed, I’m not holding my breath.

There is a kind of logic to it, too. In an ideal world, you would want as many prospects as possible to get a real MLB chance to see exactly what you have and what you need. Of course, it’s not an ideal world and you really have to add when you can. But either way, a big push next winter would be nice.

ThisReallySox

I wonder if the upcoming CBA is also limiting what Renisdorf is willing to do? I am assuming he has an idea of how that might play out. But he hasn’t needed much of an excuse to not follow through with “the money will be spent” nonsense

Last edited 1 year ago by ThisReallySox
roke1960

If Kopech starts the season in the pen, and he probably will, the Sox may have the best bullpen in baseball. Hendriks, Kopech, Bummer, Crochet, Heuer, Foster, Marshall are 7 studs. If Giolito, Keuchel and Lynn can give them consistent 6-7 inning outings, they really just need 4-5 innings from Cease and Lopez/Rodon. Their bullpen depth is outstanding. Now, about the SP and bench depth…

Foulkelore

Can we make a catcher with: Mercedes’ bat, Zack’s eye and handedness, Lucroy’s veteran experience, and Zavala’s catching ability?

asinwreck

Sure. It only cost $115 million to sign Realmuto.

Michael Kenny

Sounds to me like Yasmani Grandal.

asinwreck

Cloning is still more expensive and less reliable than free agency.

Foulkelore

I don’t know. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if it’s more realistic for the Sox to make their own cloning technique (another Grandal) or a Fly-like machine (combining all the backup catchers) rather than hand out over $100 million to a free agent.

MrStealYoBase

It’s not really all that related to the content in this article but… I hope the Padres succeed. Put aside the Tatis angst for a second and look at the bigger picture.

The Padres are spending at nearly twice their previous high-water mark. They’ve paid up big on the free-agent market, trade market, international market, and on extensions. They do this despite the pandemic, despite being in a relatively small media market, and despite sharing a division with baseball’s Goliath. They are spending money now to make money later. It’s an approach I’ve thought for a while is necessary to actually grow a fan base and compete long-term.

They need to succeed not just on the field but also on the ledger. So that even the most penny-pinching of owners in this sport have no choice but to sit up and realize that this is the smart business philosophy. Man, I hope that happens.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Screw the Padres.

jhomeslice

Spot on. The Padres are showing the baseball world how it’s done. The Sox are showing how to build a great young team and not win anything because Reinsdorf doesn’t have the balls to take any risks. If he did, they would win, and he would make a lot more money, just like he did with Jordan. Of course the Sox will never make THAT kind of money, just saying that your point is well taken and “spending money to make money” works in baseball if done the right way. It sure would work in Chicago. They still might win this year but the fan excitement isn’t there like it would be if they had a great offseason. That will show up at the gate in the early season. If they got Springer, I would be there opening day even if the weather sucked. I want to go to some games, but if they start poorly and have problems reflective of what they failed to do this offseason, I will find better things to do until it looks like they are going to do better than they did in 2020. I’m not going to go to pay money to see either Rodon or Lopez give up 4 runs in the first 3 innings. So their offseason saved them money in terms of payroll, but cost them money at the gate.

Last edited 1 year ago by jhomeslice
itaita

“The Padres are showing the baseball world how it’s done.”

Ill still go with the Cardinals who haven’t had back to back losing seasons (Not counting strike shortened years) since the late 50’s.

jhomeslice

THAT is an amazing stat, wow. That’s crazy. Sox have not had all that many back to back winning seasons!

I’ll give you the Cardinals over a longer timeframe, but will still go with the Padres for 2021. Arenando should be huge for them though.

mikeyb

I still remember when everyone (myself included) laughed at them for that goofy Eric Hosmer contract and assumed they had screwed themselves out of the chance to add other big contracts. Turns out major league baseball is actually a very lucrative business, and owners can actually afford multiple big contracts. Who knew?

MrStealYoBase

The Sox have wasted more than $18M on much worse players pretty much every year going back as far as I care to remember. The difference is that the Padres have gotten all of their payroll detritus out of a single roster spot, rather than spreading it around. Much more efficient!

jhomeslice

No kidding. Last year Encarnacion, Mazara, Gio G, Cishek to the tune of 25M I think.

This year 13 for Eaton, Rodon, Lopez. I’m glad they did not get another dumpster DH, and that they had the sense to let someone in house give it a try. Not saying they have a great DH solution, but I’d rather give Collins, Vaughn, or Mercedes a try than go the Brad Miller route or something.

Oddvark

There’s no such thing as a bad contract if it doesn’t impede the team from spending as needed. (But that Hosmer contract was still pretty bad.)

denman

Comparisons between the Sox and Padres, I think, will be interesting. If the Padres hadn’t flipped a washed up Shields for Tatis Jr. and had they suffered the degree of injury and underperformance with their prospects that has plagued the Sox, the Hosmer contract might look a lot more impeding. They would have had a lot more trouble filling out their rotation without losing any top tier prospects. Still, I agree with Mr.StealYoBase, Padres success financially and on the field, should make it easier for Hahn to pry away enough to sign Conforto (Presuming that none of Cespedes (the younger), BRuth or Adolfo are mashing enough to claim RF or maybe even if they are).

Foulkelore

It’s going to be quite interesting if things go well, and the Sox make it out of the AL, hopefully multiple times, over the next few years. It’s quite possible they could have to face and beat Machado (failed big FA signing), Tatis (failed trade), and the rest of the Padres, with their more ideal version of how to build and supplement a contender, in order to win s championship.

roke1960

Yeah, that would be tough to swallow if the Sox make it to the World Series only to have Machado and Tatis stick it to us.

Eagle Bones

Who needs depth, amirite?

https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2021/02/phillies-jt-realmuto-broken-thumb-fracture.html

The Phillies kicked off Spring Training with some brutal news for fans. Star catcher J.T. Realmuto recently sustained a small fracture in his right thumb, manager Joe Girardi announced to reporters (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki). His thumb will be immobilized for the next two weeks, and while the Phils are hopeful he’ll be ready for Opening Day, there’s no guarantee that’ll be the case.

Amar

Collins for Harper amirite?

The Littlest Hurt

Hang on, was that Tony LaRussa or Johnny Cash?

fustercluck

“When he hit his spot and that delivery was together … I fell into a burning ring of fire.”